ETU Film Fest: The Faculty

-June 4th, 2014

With the ETU Kickstarter in progress and many Savage Worlds fans trying to get to know Pinebox a little better, this “film fest” talks about some of the movies we think capture the spirit of ETU and Pinebox, Texas. Pun very much intended.

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The Faculty

This movie, released in 1998, was Robert Rodriguez’s next to direct after From Dusk Till Dawn. If you’re not familiar with The Faculty, it’s like Breakfast Club meets Body Snatchers. Like Dusk Till Dawn, it includes a number of recognizable faces–including Salma Hayek who not only starred in Rodriguez’s DtD, but also his earlier Desperado. I can’t fault the guy for his casting choices.

What makes it an ETU/Pinebox style movie? While not so much supernatural as paranormal/alien, its “something is taking over the school and we students have to fight back” premise makes it a worthy film fest entry for your ETU inspiration. Replace aliens with wholesale demonic possession–or for that matter stick with the aliens–and you’ve got yourself a pretty good setup for a campus-themed adventure. Bonus points for the paranoia of not knowing who you can trust.

(Also, can I just say how fun it is watching old movie trailers? To me 1998 was just like, yesterday, until I see how dated these trailers look. Did we really think that was a good commercial? When did movie trailers stop looking so cheesy?)

What’s it missing? The Faculty is set in high school rather than a college campus, although all the actors playing teens are almost certainly in their 20s. Also, I don’t remember where it’s set but it probably needed more monster trucks, rednecks, and hogzilla.

No tag for this post.

With the ETU Kickstarter in progress and many Savage Worlds fans trying to get to know Pinebox a little better, this “film fest” talks about some of the movies we think capture the spirit of ETU and Pinebox, Texas. Pun very much intended.

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Jennifer’s Body

Like Dale & Tucker vs Evil, this movie is far under-appreciated. By 2009, star Megan Fox’s appeal from the first Transformers movie had already to wane, especially in light of her public tantrums and prima donna behaviour. Others dismissed it due to the way the studio’s marketing arm and the press stressed Fox’s sex appeal, from the trailer to the title. Don’t be fooled. This isn’t a movie that needed to spice things up in compensation for a weak story. Jennifer’s Body has a solid script that keeps you watching to the end. Fox and co-star Amanda Seyfried both turn in solid performances.

What makes it an ETU/Pinebox pick? Jennifer’s Body is a supernatural thriller that takes place in an academic setting. Even better, Seyfried pulls off an excellent role as a normal student forced by circumstances to find her inner hero. This more than a slasher flick. This is what we at 12 to Midnight call Heroic Horror. Good guys don’t wait to get picked off one by one or get slowly driven insane. They face the darkness and fight back.

What’s it missing? Not much. All it needs is some East Texas flavor with more of the types of odd, rural characters you find here.

No tag for this post.

With the ETU Kickstarter in progress and many Savage Worlds fans trying to get to know Pinebox a little better, this “film fest” talks about some of the movies we think capture the spirit of ETU and Pinebox, Texas. Pun very much intended.

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Dale and Tucker vs Evil

This movie is criminally under-appreciated. For quite a long time you could stream it from Netflix, so be sure to start by checking there. Dale and Tucker vs Evil turns the “college kids attacked by in-bred rednecks” on its head. All poor Dale and Tucker want to do is enjoy their “fixer upper” lake house. Instead, crazy college kids keep coming out of the woods and attacking them! The day after I saw this movie I went to the store and bought a copy.

I’ll admit that I added it to my rental queue mostly based on the silly premise and the presence of Alan “Firefly’s Wash”  Tudyk, but in this movie he plays the (relatively) straight man to the funny Tyler Labine.

What makes it a Pinebox pick?

D&TvE deftly flips common horror tropes like “camp murder” and “degranged rednecks” on their heads. Likewise, East Texas University keep players on their toes by sometimes using their expectations against them.

 What’s off kilter?

It’s a really, really funny movie. That makes for a highly recommended night in front of the tv, but not such a great horror game. In ETU, the supernatural is no laughing matter.

Happy Birthday Last Rites

-August 14th, 2013

In August 2003, a publisher no one had ever heard of released a RPG adventure in a format most people still hated in a genre most gamers didn’t play. This month we celebrate the ten year anniversary of Last Rites of the Black Guard, the game that started it all.

It’s pretty easy for me to remember the date. It’s only a month after the birth of my first child, and I was the one laying out the book in the sleep-deprived weeks that followed. I’d only started with 12 to Midnight a few months earlier. It was before Last Rites’ release but after it had been written and the cover art ordered. It was an exciting time. We had little clue what we were doing or what sort of sales we could expect from a PDF-only product. I was invited to join based on my enthusiasm, my having already written Bloodlines, and most importantly my layout expertise. In those early days the 12 to Midnight motto was “Why pay a freelancer when you can make them a partner?!” (I guess it worked because ten years later here I am.) Anyhow, the only catch was that I was (and still am) a gaming hermit. Even in my 30s, I’d never run a game from a commercial adventure module nor did I have any idea what one was supposed to look like. I just made it look how I imagined a module ought to look.

lr-cover-2009-thumbnail300Fortunately we had several things going for us. First was Ed’s kick-ass story. Ten years later it still holds up as a very spooky adventure that ignites your imagination. We also distinguished ourselves with downloadable freebies, most notably our audio files of EVPs (“electronic voice phenomenon”) which could be played by the GM during the game. These were universally loved and did a lot to help earn the game earn positive reviews. Finally, I think the game’s evocative cover made people stop and click to read more. At a time when many “indie press” publishers at RPGNow were still using clipart and stock photography for covers, we invested a few hundred dollars to commission what turned out to be an amazing canvas painting.

Unfortunately, that painting pretty much blew our entire art budget. For interior art Ed suggested that we use “photoshopped” photography. I distinctly remember taking photos of houses, friends, and even kitchen knives for use as interior art. I made them look like polaroids (despite polaroid cameras already being a couple decades out of fashion even in 2003) with little captions as if they had been taken by the heroes themselves. Adding “ectoplasm” or other supernatural effects was by far the hardest part. In the end it might have been a little cheesy, but somehow it still worked.

Having no previous experience, when we published it we really didn’t know how many copies we would sell. We hoped for hundreds of sales but we were prepared to be disappointed with only hundred or so for starters. Boy, were we in for a shock. As I mentioned in the introduction, back then most gamers wouldn’t touch PDF games with a 10-foot pole. Worse, the ones who bought PDFs were mostly fantasy gamers. The horror fan base back in 2003 was tiny compared to today. Call of Cthulhu hadn’t been updated since 5th edition in 1992 and the 6th edition wouldn’t come out until two years after Last Rites. Worse yet, we weren’t even releasing an entire game system but only a single adventure for d20 Modern (a product that itself hadn’t flown off the shelves). As we often lamented in August and September of 2003, “We’re a niche of a niche of a niche.”

But that’s not to say that good things didn’t come. We sold dozens of copies and the reviews were largely positive. Even better, Ed’s game caught the attention of other game designers who sent him private emails of encouragement. Without those messages of encouragement and praise, Last Rites probably would have been both our first and last product. It’s a powerful reminder of how even a small word of encouragement can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

For all the good that came from Last Rites (and there was a LOT), there was one not-so-great thing that we heard over and over again. “Why did you end it on a cliffhanger? When is the next part coming out?” This is where Last Rites’ popularity was its own worst enemy. Like any movie fan can tell you, the longer you have to wait for a sequel the higher your expectations. Even though Ed had some ideas about what would happen next, as the game earned more and more praise he felt corresponding pressure to make sure his ideas surpassed the first book.  Before long he felt like anything he came up with couldn’t compete with what fans had built up in their minds.

Here we are ten years later, and people still want to know what happens next. That’s a testament to the power of Ed’s story of a suburban haunting. The good news is that your wait will be rewarded in our upcoming East Texas University campaign book. Inside, you’ll find Savage Tales that revisit the evil Nazi mummy and his Black Guard, finally delivering closure after a decade of uncertainty. Ten years is long enough.

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This 1950s building was constructed during the Dixiecrat movement and named after one of the area’s most well-known military figures, a Texas Ranger who fought in the Mexican and Civil Wars. Unlike other campus buildings that have seen departments come and go, the “Dale Building” was purpose-built for military sciences classes and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. It sports an indoor gun range, armory, classrooms, and a small gym with changing rooms and showers. The nearby drill field is the site of morning and afternoon physical training, and it offers bleacher seating for Drill Review. Further to the east is a challenging obstacle course known as the “meat grinder.” North of the building is the “War Zone,” a small outdoor paintball field.

One interesting feature of the Dale Building is that it does not have a single, distinctive entrance. Rather, the large, single-story building features many modest entrances and exits that all lead like spokes to an open, central hub. A bronze statue of Edmund Dale in uniform sternly stands watch at one end of the lobby, overlooking the benches and study tables that pepper the area. Legend says that Captain Dale will fight again should the need arise. A favorite ROTC anecdote is that in 1970 someone upset over the war in Viet Nam stormed into the Dale building and took aim at the first person in uniform. The shot missed, hit the Edmund Dale statue, and ricocheted back to the shooter, who was struck dead.

Of course urban legends thrive on campus, but like many buildings this one is purported to be haunted. Late at night, students leaving the building sometimes meet a sad-looking fellow student in out-of-date uniform approaching down the hall. The students call him the “sad soldier” and he usually only appears once every four or five years. Because he looks so real, most people usually describe their realization that something was amiss only when they noticed that he makes no sound. The ghost morosely traverses the hall and disappears when he enters the central lobby.

The other ghost is Sgt. Alvarez, the building’s first quartermaster. Sgt. Alvarez was a crusty WWII veteran who had lost his leg and was thus passed over for service in Korea. The Sergeant was well known both for his foul moods and foul mouth.  He was especially notorious for foul browbeating he would give any students who failed to take care of the equipment he issued them. Sgt. Alvarez haunts the armory, where he sometimes curses at careless trainees.